You hear a lot from vendors about the most popular and sophisticated varieties of machine tools--machining centers, CNC lathes, and the like. And shops looking for that sort of equipment have a myriad of familiar suppliers from which to choose, names that provide a reasonable level of comfort that the quality is up to par and that service support will be there for many years to come. But what about the other machines--manual mills, lathes, boring mills and so on? Primarily for cost reasons, these machine tools are increasingly coming from obscure parts of the globe. Buyers in the market for these kinds of machines have to wonder both what they're getting, and what they're getting into, when they bring one onto the shop floor.
But a few U.S.-based vendors see this dilemma as an opportunity. They shop the world for low-cost producers of dependable equipment, and then themselves assume responsibility for ensuring that equipment is up to U.S. standards as well as stand behind the warranty and provide the after-sale parts and service support. A good example of such a firm is Summit Machine Tool Manufacturing Corp. (Oklahoma City), who handles a range of milling machines, lathes, VTLs, drill presses, and horizontal and vertical boring mills.
Though the base machines originate from many places around the world, it is insufficient to refer to Summit simply as an importer, since the company is doing considerably more than simply bringing in the primary manufacturer's standard design. Product development is a big part of the company strategy, and something they approach proactively. Typically, says company president, Steve Golsen, the process begins by their identifying a product niche that they believe is not being adequately served by mainline machine tool builders. They then establish an appropriate set of specifications for such a machine sold in the U.S., and finally go look for a manufacturing source, based on the company's rather extensive knowledge of machine tool builders worldwide.
Once a source is secured, a prototype is produced, and then tested out in Summit's own machining facility. This qualification process may result in further changes on the primary manu-facturer's end, or reveal the need for modifications which are easier made in Summit's shop on each incoming machine. In any case, says vice president, Bruce Smith, production models are individually qualified as being up to U.S. standards of accuracy and quality before being released for sale.
While the machines are typically not the least expensive in their class, the company argues that these quality assurances provide better total value. They also point to the company's duration as indicative of the success of the concept and the stability of the U.S. base of support. Here they have a point since Summit has been providing machine tools in this manner since 1962.
Currently the line includes a range of manual horizontal lathes, from small toolroom models, to standard and "big-hole" engine lathes, to heavy duty manual or CNC models with as much as 78 inches of swing, 84 horsepower, and 56,000-lb workpiece capacity between centers. Milling machines include four vertical knee mill models and three horizontal/universal models. Manual and CNC horizontal boring mills go as large as 31.5 (Z) by 70 by 98 inches. And manual or CNC vertical boring mills have tables ranging from 47 to 157 inches in diameter, and machining heights as high as 100 inches over the table. CNC VTLs range from 48 to 120 inches of swing. Most of the popular models are sold from stock in Summit's Oklahoma City facility